State Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, responds to questions as she presented SB 106, a bill to allow Gov. Brian Kemp to pursue a federal Medicaid waiver without legislative approval. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Health care moves, mixed with power politics

Monday was a big day for health care and power politics in Georgia.

The House gave final approval, largely along party lines, to a bill that gives Gov. Brian Kemp authority to pursue federal “waiver” programs that could pave the way to a limited Medicaid expansion and ease insurance costs for some poor and middle-class Georgians.

In doing so, the Republican-led Legislature hands back the power it filched from the executive branch five years ago. From the AJC article:

Republicans forcefully rallied around it as a concrete step to help struggling Georgians. State Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, called on his colleagues to “trust our governor” and give him the ability to seek the waivers…

The vote was a victory for Kemp’s office, restoring powers the Legislature stripped during Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election run in 2014. It now sets up a tight timeline: Kemp wants the waivers to be approved by 2020 — in time for the presidential election.

But it also means the Legislature won’t be required to approve whatever deal that Kemp strikes, taking a hot issue off their re-election table.

Earlier this morning, one of your Insiders posted another bit of health care-related score-settling:

The Senate Finance Committee passed a surprise version of a Medicaid funding bill that was loaded with new transparency provisions that require nonprofit hospitals to post detailed financial statements, patient revenue details and the location and price of land they own.

The nonprofit hospitals would also be required to list how much money each has in the bank and the salaries and the fringe benefits of their 10 highest paid administrators, along with the details from questionnaires and audits of programs.

This tracks with demands made in the December report of a special House committee on rural economic development, pushed in particular by state Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn. Among England and other lawmakers, there exists a deep suspicion, with some evidence, that non-profit hospitals aren’t always as poor as they claim.

Lt. Geoff Duncan has bought into this opinion. When it was learned that WellStar Health System had helped back a TV campaign to block legislation that would ease caps on competition among health care institutions, Duncan fired off this Tweet:

WellStar Health, which enjoys “Non Profit” status & DOES NOT pay federal or state taxes because of that status, is spending $2 million to protect their $1,179,042,512.00 in TAX FREE assets. How is this possible?

But the larger doubts have a longer pedigree. Here are the opening paragraphs of a 2005 article by Andy Miller, who was then an AJC reporter:

Private jets. Elite hotel suites in tourist locales. Generous bar tabs. Cuban cigars.

These were among the perks enjoyed by board members and executives of Phoebe Putney Health System and their business associates, according to travel documents and receipts obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The perks came courtesy of a private malpractice insurance company that was set up in the Cayman Islands by Phoebe Putney, an Albany-based nonprofit organization, to save the hospital system money on malpractice insurance. But the insurer also financed expensive trips to London and the Bahamas.

As late as 2014, the same hospital system acknowledged to Miller, who now operates Georgia Health News, that it has “investment accounts handled by external investment managers. Of the funds invested there are such accounts in the Caymans, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands.”

***

By our count, nine lawmakers crossed party lines on Monday’s vote to give Gov. Brian Kemp’s Medicaid waiver plan final passage

To the surprise of many Republicans, six Democrats bucked their leadership to vote for the plan, which passed 104-67. 

They are: Patty Bentley of Butler, Mike Glanton of Jonesboro, Mack Jackson of Sandersville, Vernon Jones of Lithonia, Dexter Sharper of Valdosta and Valencia Stovall of Forest Park.

And the three Republicans who voted against Kemp’s top legislative priority: Shaw Blackmon of Bonaire, Matt Gurtler of Tiger and Steve Tarvin of Chickamauga.

***

Among smaller doings in the Legislature: Our AJC colleague David Wickert reports that lawmakers have scrapped plans to regulate electric scooters this year.

***

Some pillars of Georgia’s GOP establishment are quickly lining up behind Karen Handel in her bid to reclaim the Sixth District congressional seat from U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta. Handel is touting endorsements this morning from: U.S. Reps. Rob Woodall of Lawrencevlle; Tom Graves of Ranger; Drew Ferguson of West Point; Austin Scott of Tifton; Buddy Carter of Pooler; and Doug Collins of Gainesville.

Not on her list: Republican U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville; Jody Hice of Monroe; and Rick Allen of Augusta.

Former Sixth District congressman Tom Price also endorsed Handel.

***

This is really weird: Ex-gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins’ website has been hacked. And the biggest change appears to involve swapping the Republican’s name out with “Finley Shepherd - Public Man of Georgia.” Compare the hacked site to the original one here.

***

On Monday, one of your Insiders told you that a deal being brokered by U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, to get federal aid to south Georgia farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael last year, has again run into trouble. And again, the issue is Democratic insistence on -- and President Donald Trump’s opposition to -- continued aid to Puerto Rico, which was hit by two hurricanes in 2017 and is still reeling. The Washington Post today explains the situation:

The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food-stamp and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For states, the federal government has committed to funding those programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote. But Puerto Rico instead funds its programs through a block grant from the federal government, which needs to be regularly renewed, and also gives food-stamp benefits about 40 percent smaller than those of states.

After initially vowing to reject the food-stamp funding, President Trump has agreed to the emergency request to help Senate Republicans pass a broader disaster-relief package, which may be taken up for a vote this week.

But at an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 22, Trump asked top advisers for ways to limit federal support from going to Puerto Rico, believing it is taking money that should be going to the mainland, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the president’s private remarks.

***

Also in Washington, House Democrats today will attempt to override the first veto of Donald Trump’s presidency. They will attempt to uphold their resolution disapproving of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency -- in order to redirect money allocated elsewhere by Congress to a border wall.

Don’t expect them to change the minds of any Georgia Republicans, who voted unanimously with the president earlier this month. They’ve signaled they’ll stick with the White House, despite a Pentagon list being circulated by Senate Democrats that shows up to $260 million in funding for Georgia military construction projects on the chopping block to help pay for the wall. GOP lawmakers dismissed the list last week as hypothetical. 

Evans Republican Rick Allen, for example, said money for a cyber instructional facility at Fort Gordon in his 12th Congressional District will be safe despite it being included on the Defense Department’s list. The military is projected to award contracts before October, his office told Augusta TV network WRDW, which should take the project’s funding off the table. 

***

Scott Johnson is boasting some big-name help in the race to chair the Georgia GOP. He posted pictures of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore at a fundraiser held yesterday. We are told the appearances are not tantamount to endorsements, but are a show of support ahead of the May race against David Shafer and Bruce Alzevedo. 

***

Don’t miss this story by WABE’s Johnny Kauffman, who captured the long and storied history of Atlanta attorney Emmett Bondurant as he prepares to argue a North Carolina case over the drawing of political maps before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

***

Here’s another Republican name to add to the lengthy list of potential candidates for Georgia’s Seventh District congressional seat. GeorgiaPol reports that Harrison Floyd, a Marine Corps veteran and George Washington University master’s degree student, is eyeing a bid to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based district. He already has some company.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X